TAG-Heuer Museum Opening -- January 30, 2008

TAG-Heuer will be opening its new Museum, located in La Chaux de-Fonds, Switzerland, on Wednesday, January 30th. I have been invited to attend the Opening, and will use this page as a journal for my trip -- describing the sights and sounds of the days in Switzerland, the actual Opening event, and the Museum itself.

It is only fitting that I begin this Journal with "Thanks" to my friends at TAG-Heuer, who have invited me to come to Switzerland for the opening. Won't it be great to actually meet all these folks, after the hundreds of e-mail messages and dozens of phone calls over the past five years!

I will plan to update this Journal from time to time, even after the first full version is published. I hope that readers will contact me with any comments or questions by writing to onthedash@bellsouth.net.

Jeff Stein, January 22, 2008

Some Questions, before the Trip

(January 23, 2008)

I have been collecting the vintage Heuer timepieces for nine years, and have participated in the online community of collectors for five years, primarily through my website dedicated to the vintage Heuers (www.OnTheDash.com). In advance of the trip to Switzerland, I am thinking about several aspects of the new Museum, and specifically how it will relate to our little world of collectors. Here are some of my questions, in advance of the trip:

  • How will the items shown in the Museum "correlate" to the timepieces that our community of vintage collectors cherish? We have our "grail" watches -- for example, earliest Autavias, the "panda" Carreras, the AMI (Italian Air Force) chronographs and anything with the word "Chronomatic" on the dial. Will those who assembled the collection for the Museum share these preferences? Will the "grails" be properly represented, with propriety being judged by the passions of the vintage collectors?

    How many of our "grails" will be in the Museum?

  • What historical themes will the Museum evoke? The vintage chronograph collectors love the racers -- the big names (McQueen and Siffert), as well as some other champions who wore the Heuers (Rindt and Andretti). How much of this heritage of racers and racing will we see in the Museum? What about the sports timing? Will we see the stopwatch that appeared at the beginning of the "60 Minutes" television show every week or the model that John Glenn wore on his ride into space?
  • What new resources will the Museum provide for the community of collectors? Will the Museum be loaded with informational resources (catalogs and databases) or will the Museum be limited to displays of the watches? Will we see blueprints and patent applications for the Chronomatics? Drawings of the first Carreras? Interesting prototypes and studies? How will I capture any meaningful portion of this, in the alloted time?
  • Will any "frankens" or "fakes" have made their way into the Museum? And if they have, shall I just smile and say, "indeed, that's a very rare one".
  • What about my latest obsession, the unique Robo-Chrono (Ford Split Lap Unit 77)? Will he have gotten his ugly face into the Museum? Will we have any information as to who designed this nasty looking thing that I love so much?
  • The invitation to the opening uses the phrase, "From Heritage to Innovation". The vintage collectors love the "Heritage". No doubt, the TAG-Heuer marketing types must love the "Innovation" (evidenced by new models using new technologies). How will these themes be balanced and interwoven? Will the Museum effectively draw on Heuer's unique Heritage, as it supports TAG-Heuer's current commercial endeavors?
  • I have assisted the Museum in purchasing several timepieces (for example, an 18 karat gold triple calendar chronograph, engraved with the name of a US soldier and dated 1946). Friends have supplied other special chronographs to the Museum. In my mind's eye, I can visualize the beautiful displays for these special watches. Will these timepieces be displayed as I imagine, or will they be stuck in a closet, in some storage room?
  • Is it ill-advised to be framing these questions, to be posted in public forums, facing the possibility that -- in the end -- I may not like the answers?

The BIG Question -- Which Watches?

(January 26, 2008)

As I get ready for the trip, there is one question that family and friends keep asking. It's not about where I will be going, or what I will be doing, or who I will be seeing, but rather the question is, "Which watches will you be taking to Switzerland?" Indeed, this is a question that I have also spent a fair amount of time considering, so let's see whether we can develop an answer. We'll go though the decision-making, step-by-step.

The most obvious thing is that I will only take Heuer chronographs. None of my "secondary" or "under-brand"s. On this particular trip, it will be Heuers and nothing else but Heuers.

The next decision is "How many to take?" This is not a swap-meet or a watch show, and I don't see any activity on the program called "Show and Tell", but I know that I will wear one when I travel, and I know that I will want to wear something special to the Museum Opening and party . . . so that's at least two for the trip. I must imagine that there will also be some opportunities to show off one or two of my "special" Heuers during the visit.

In a perfect world, I might want to take eight or ten of my most prized Heuers. As I think about (a) the limited space that I will have in my briefcase, (b) the fact that these prized watches will be in a hotel room, with the risk of theft, (c) the fact that there can be hassles with customs, bringing loads of watches back into the United States after the trip, and (d) that I will only be in Switzerland for two full days, I decide that it will make sense to bring a total of five watches -- one that I will wear while I travel and four that I will pack.

I am thinking that this pack, which holds four watches, will be perfect for the trip:

Having now determined that I will pack four watches, the question becomes "which four to pack and which one to wear while travelling?". Let's work our way through the decision-making process:

  • Let's start with the big event -- the Museum Opening and related party (or parties). The attire for this event is stated to be "trendy chic", and as I think about what I will be wearing, the obvious choice will be a Monaco. The Monacos were "trendy chic" in 1969, and I have no doubt that they will continue to be "trendy chic" on the night of the Museum Opening, January 30, 2008.
  • Of course, the next question is "Which Monaco?". My dark gray, three register one would probably be best for the event -- somewhere between gray and black, depending on the light, it is a great party watch. But in the end I decide that I will bring my most unique Monaco -- the Chronomatic, Reference 1133B, also known in our little community as the "Paintless Wonder". So that's the first watch, and we have four slots remaining.
  • The next choice is also not so difficult. I own one other "Chronomatic", a black Autavia, Reference 1163MH. We have tracked several white Autavia Chronomatics, but this is the only black one that I have ever seen. So if is one that "belongs" in the Museum, then it may be fun to have, during the events in Switzerland. So that's two in the pack, with three slots remaining.
  • The next one to make the list will, no doubt, be the most controversial. But it's rare, and it's "cool" (at least in a 1970's sort of way), and it is definitely trendy and it is definitely chic, and -- perhaps in something of an omen -- it has just arrived this past week, after being lost in the mail for almost two months. So the Ford Split Lap Unit 77 makes the cut. If nothing else, I think that it's a safe bet that I won't be seeing too many of these during the days in Switzerland. So that's three in the pack, with two slots remaining -- one in the pack and one on my wrist.

    Three packed, one spot remaining.

Two slots remain, but it's late Saturday night, so I'll make these last two selections, during the day on Sunday.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two news items today:

  • Jack Heuer, Honorary Chairman of TAG-Heuer, and Jean-Christophe Babin, President & CEO of TAG-Heuer, have issued their "Foreward" to the Museum; and
  • I have finally decided which five of my Heuers will be making the trip to Switzerland



TAG Heuer introduces the first avant-garde 360 degree watchmaking museum, embodying 150 years of unique heritage displayed to catch the imagination, and envision and build the next 150 years. It reflects the innovation, precision, performance and prestigious sports embedded in our DNA.

What differentiates one brand from another? Why does the TAG Heuer range currently encompass lines such as the TAG Heuer Formula 1, Monaco, Carrera, the SLR Chronograph or the Grand Carrera? Why is TAG Heuer the only watch brand to offer instruments that are accurate to 1/10th, 1/100th and 1/1000th of a second for wristwatches, and to 1/10,000th of a second for timekeeping? The answer is simple: it is all a matter of DNA, just like human beings. The unique combination that makes each person different from another and implies that right from birth we are endowed with certain characteristics inherited from our parents and from their combined DNA.

The same is true of brands. TAG Heuer carries within it the visionary genes of its founders Edouard Heuer and his sons Jules-Edouard and Charles-Auguste: entrepreneurship, innovation, an obsession with ultimate precision, and a deep love of prestigious sports. From the oscillating pinion to the Mikrograph, the world’s first mechanical stopwatch accurate to 1/100th of a second, the foundations on which TAG Heuer has built its strength today were in place very early on. Ever since then - and without a doubt this is one of the brand’s great assets - men such as Charles-Edouard, Hubert and Jack Heuer, and more recently the contemporary management teams, have had the wisdom to build the brand’s strength around these central characteristics, to keep the focus of their efforts, on both product development and communication, within the framework established by our founding fathers. Our DNA is unique; it was created in the late 19th century and continues to drive a substantial proportion of our development in the early 21st century: The Calibre 360 launched in 2006 perpetuates the obsession with precision that resulted in the Mikrograph in 1916; while the TAG Heuer Formula 1 embodies the ultimate blend of prestige and performance, sport and glamour as the Olympic Games and greyhound races did in the 1920s.

I am very proud and honored to welcome you today to our new TAG Heuer 360 museum, which celebrates the exceptional TAG Heuer DNA, the unique sports heritage and constant daring quest for technical innovation and precision. Like our timepieces it seeks to be innovative and this museum has been designed to house the first ever 360 degree conic movie screen in the world. Managed by a battery of 12 computers processing over 1 million images an hour, it creates a dynamic presentation of the unique TAG Heuer watchmaking saga that has lasted almost a century and a half. Last but not least, this museum is located in the TAG Heuer avant-garde eco-headquarters, with its energy-saving architecture that allows external and natural light to flow seamlessly throughout the building from the entrance to the roof via the elevator tubes and the office windows.

Let me invite you to join me on a journey that will take you from an unrivalled heritage into an exciting future where everything is possible.

Jack Heuer, Honorary Chairman

Jean-Christophe Babin, President & CEO


After considerable deliberation, and with valuable input from family members and readers from near and far, 12 hours before my departure for Switzerland, I believe that I have completed the line-up of watches that will be making the trip to Switzerland, as follows:

The Travelling Squad: The Five that Will Make the Trip

Let's walk through these five watches, moving from left to right.

  • First up is a Chronomatic Autavia, Reference 1163 MH, in black. Over the years, I have seen approximately six Chronomatic Autvias, all of them with white dials. This is the only black-dialed Autavia that I have seen. It came to me from a collector in Brazil, and should be good for "show and tell" sessions.
  • Next up is another Chronomatic, this one a Monaco. This one has no serial number, and no reference number, and is powered by the very earliest version of the Caliber 11 movement. The midnight blue paint seems to have vanished, and thus this one is known as the "Paintless Wonder". This watch had been in a safe deposit box, in rural Ohio, but was abandoned and sold in a public auction. It came to me through an ebay auction, and has just been fully overhauled (though all the original parts, except for one wheel, were left in place).
  • So after packing two Chronomatics, one an Autavia and one a Monaco, it was clear that I need to select (a) a Carrera, (b) with a Valjoux 72 movement, (c) with a white dial. The Reference 2447SN is one of the "grails" for Heuer collectors, so it makes the Travelling Squad. This one came to me from a collector in Germany.
  • Next up the one known to our group as "Robo-Chrono", the Ford Split Lap Unit 77, the only electronic Heuer that I own. If I find myself in a room full of Monacos, Carreras and Autavias, won't it feel good to know that I have the only Ford Split Lap Unit 77! This one came to me last week, from a collector in Germany, after spending eight weeks lost in transit.
  • Some people refer to chronographs as "Tool Watches", this Reference 510.502, has been one of my old reliables. Powered by the Lemania 5100 movement, this will be the one to wear while travelling and for the morning run. No points for sleek design or scarcity, but a rugged chronograph with excellent legibility. Came to me from a collector in the United States.

So that's the line-up for the trip to Switzerland -- four packed away and "Green Guy" to wear while travelling.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our flight out of Newark was two hours late; we land in Geneva at around 10:00 Tuesday morning; and we drove directly to Neuchatel. Before going any further, let me give the line-up, of exactly who is in this group we call "we".

The trip is sponsored by TAG-Heuer for journalists to attend the opening of the new TAG-Heuer 360 Museum, in La Chaux-De-Fonds, and to see the introduction of some new TAG-Heuer watches prior to the annual Basel Watch Show. There will be approximately 200 members of the media at the opening of the Museum, and I am included in the delegation from North America. The North American delegation is led by Rachel Branch, Director of Public Relations and Events, TAG-Heuer, North America, with the other participants being Norma Buchanan, Senior Editor of WatchTime magazine, Gary Girdvainis, Editor-in-Chief of International Watch magazine, and Leslie Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Jeweler magazine. I will admit that I have asked myself, at least once or twice during the trip, what in the world I am doing in this group, and whether I should declare myself to be the Editor-in-Chief of OnTheDash.com, as a matter of "equal dignity". In any case, it's great to be representing the vintage Heuer collectors and the electronic media / bloggers on this junket.

The North American delegation (left to right): Jeff Stein, Rachel Branch, Leslie Wu, Gary Girdvainis and Norma Buchanan

During the afternoon, the other members of our group went snow-shoeing, but I had a "conflict" (about which more below), so instead I went on a self-guided walking tour of Neuchatel (French for "New Castle"). My first proiroty when visiting any new town is to look for the vintage watches. Having only around one hour to kill, and being unable to find any decent looking pawn shops or antique dealers, I walked along the lakeshore, explored the streets and city center, and made my way up the hill to the local cathedral / castle (which are usually on the high ground and offer decent photo opportunities). Here are some of the views of Neuchatel.

Our North American delegation is one of the five groups of journalists staying at the Palafitte Hotel, a five-star hotel a couple miles away from the town center. The Palafitte was built only five years ago and is situated in the most amazing spot . . . out on Lake Neuchatel. There are three pavillions, of around five rooms each, that are built out over the water. These pavillions are built on pillars in the lake, and each of the rooms has a private deck, with a ladder going down to the Lake. The furnishing of the rooms are amazing -- plasma screen with home theatre sound, a louvered wall between the bedroom and bathroom (that swivels so that you can see the Lake from the jacuzzi), every electronic convenience, and even a glass case with archeological artifacts (oddly situated adjacent to the glass-walled shower). I am lucky to have one on the room built out onto the Lake, though I didn't venture down the ladder. Check here for a Virtual Tour of the Palafitte Hotel.

Views of Hotel Palafitte, including the Pavillions on the Lake

Interview with Jack Heuer, Honorary President of TAG-Heuer. My friends at TAG-Heuer arranged for me to have a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday afternoon: an interview with Jack Heuer. Mr. Heuer joined the company in 1958, as the fourth generation of family leadership. I have exchanged e-mail messages with Mr. Heuer over the years, most recently on the subject of the history of the Chronomatic / Caliber 12 movements. Still, I had never met or even spoken with Mr. Heuer.

So much has been published about Mr. Heuer's life story, and we have exchanged so many e-mail messages over the last few months on the subject of the Chronomatics, so I decided that rather than the broad "retrospective" type of questions about his career, I would try to focus on some very specific questions about matters that would be of interest to the vintage collectors, and fill in some of the pieces of his life story that I had never seen discussed. International Watch magazine will be publishing portions of the interview transcript within the next few months. In the meanwhile, let me at least list some of the topics that we covered during our 70-minute conversation:

  • how Mr. Heuer learned about "branding" and "marketing" during his early years in the United States;
  • his experiences as a ski racer and automobile rally driver / navigator, and how these activities led to Heuer's development of timepieces;
  • his role in developing the Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer, while studying engineering in college;
  • the question that all the collectors face: "If you could keep only one Heuer, which would it be?";
  • why the "Pasadena" chronograph was named the Pasadena;
  • how the Heuers were associated with horseracing, even before automobile racing (and why the "Kentucky" chronograph was named the Kentucky); and
  • what happened to all the family archives, from the early years.

I was a bit surprised that the first 10 minutes of our conversation took the form of Mr. Heuer asking me questions, as he wondered how a lawyer from Atlanta, Georgia came to the hobby of collecting old Heuer timepieces and developing a related website. Mr. Heuer was also very interested to hear about the size of our vintage collecting community, in terms of the number of collectors who buy and sell these watches, participate in vintage Heuer discussion forums, etc.

In the end, the conversation with Mr. Heuer was a fantastic highlight of my visit to Switzerland. And just in case you were wondering about the flow of the conversation, on the plane ride to Switzerland, I had prepared four pages of questions. During our conversation, I didn't touch these questions, even once.

At the Bar, with Jean-Christophe Babin, President and CEO of TAG-Heuer. This "event" was certainly not on the calendar, but after dinner, I overheard Jean-Christophe Babin ask Rachel Branch, when he would be able to meet Jeff. Being the "can-do" person that she is, Rachel introduced us right then and there, and Jean-Christophe invited me to join him at the bar for drinks. What a blast! No notes or preparation, and no iPod for the voice recording, but a fantastic conversation. Among the topics:

  • the relationship between the Caliber 11 / 12 (from 1969) and the Carrera 360 (introduced last year);
  • why the Porsche 928 deserves supercar status;
  • why sprinters and marathon runners have different body forms (and why no championship runner has ever won the 100m and the marathon);
  • his making the transition from selling detergent to selling watches;
  • the amazing coincidence that we both (a) have five children, (b) enjoy Alfa Romeo sedans, (c) run major horological enterprises [well, we do have two out of three of these items in common]; and
  • how TAG-Heuer and OnTheDash might share some projects, in the near future.

Click on the image to see the watches: Jean-Christophe is wearing the newest of the Grand Carrera series, the Caliber 17 RS2 (Titanium); I am wearing one of the oldest Monacos (circa 1968/69). Photos courtesy of Setsuo Sugiyama.

After updating this Journal late Tuesday evening, I spend some time on the phone with my friend, Chuck Maddox, in Chicagoland. As my co-conspirator / technical advisor / support desk, Chuck makes some recommendations regarding the best way to convert / store / back-up the audio files for the interview with Jack Heuer. I have 70 minutes of audio, divided into three segments, and that's a lot to transmit by either FTP or e-mail. After several attempts, we get the first two segments onto Chuck's computer; the third segment, which is the longest, will continue to reside on my IPod and laptop.

That's all for now . . . highlights for tomorrow expected to include (a) morning run along Lake Neuchatel, (b) TAG-Heuer presentations, (c) meeting more of my friends / penpals, and last, but certainly not least, the (d) Museum opening . . . at which we will all see the meaning of "trendy chic" attire, as interpreted by TAG-Heuer folks and hundreds of journalists from around the world!

Good night after a fantastic day in Neuchatel! Light's out at 3:15.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Two hours and 45 minutes of sleep, and the wake-up call comes at 6:00 a.m. But as I tell the kids when we travel, "We didn't come here to sleep." The run along Lake Neuchatel is nice -- a bike-path along the lake, that winds through a couple of marinas, and recreation areas. There is a "Pique-nique" area, which must be far more elegant than the American "Picnic" areas.

When I return to the Hotel, I meet up with one of my "internet freinds", Nic Green, from the United Kingdom. Nic does curtains and window treatments by day; vintage Heuers by night, with the "Heuerboy" website. [Can it be a coincidence that Nic does the curtains, and Heuer enthusiast David Devos does the paint and paper?] Nic and I have corresponded for a couple of years, traded the occasional chronograph, and had the occasional "bump" on the ebay auctions. It's interesting to learn that he actually overhauls chronographs himself, and also makes the vintage-style straps. Great to meet a collector who not has the reputation for buying and selling the best of the vintage watches, but can also work on them and operate a fine looking website..

Todays' program consists of TAG-Heuer's new product introductions and interveiws with senior TAG-Heuer executives. The program is held at the Beau Rivage Hotel, situated on the promenade in the Neuchatel town center.

The day opens with presentations by Jean-Christophe Babin and Stephane Linder, providing an overview of TAG-Heuer's recent successes [yes, sales were strong in January 2008, despite turmoil in certain world markets], the current positioning of the brand, and plans for the future. The most notable of the new products being introduced at the event are two new extensions of the Carrera line, the Grand Carrera Caliber 17 RS2 (top row, in the group shown below) and the Carrera Caliber 1 Vintage (bottom row). The "Caliber 17 RS2" is clearly the star of the show. It is made of grade 2 titanium, with red accents on the second hand, the crown and the stitching of the strap, and will be offered in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces. The Caliber 1 Vintage has a very different look -- a hob-nail finish on the dial and movement; the simplicity of the movement evokes the look of a vintage pocket watch. The Grand Carreras haven't yet arrived in the United States, so it's also great to be able to see the full line "in the metal", and to be able to see the new ones that will be making their debut.

Photos of Caliber 17 RS2 (Dial and Back), and Caliber 1 (Dial and Side), courtesy of Kristian Haagen. Click to see larger photos.

I had imagined that this portion of the program would not be terribly interesting; in fact, it's great to see the full line of Grand Carreras, and to hear about TAG-Heuer's plans going forward. The brand does seem to be on a roll these last few years, and they seem to have well-developed strategic plan for the brand.

Memorable moments from the day:

  • walking past a table of Japanese reporters, and seeing one of them point my direction and say something, in Japanese, about "OnTheDash";
  • hearing TAG-Heuer executives discussing current conditions in the luxury watch market, with references to consumer confidence in the United States and the collapse of the sub-prime market . . . can't we even get away from this mess, for two days?
  • seeing the reaction of Jean-Christophe Babin and Thomas Houlon (TAG-Heuer's Innovation Brand Manager) to the "Paintless Wonder", likely to be one of the 10 Monaco prototypes, from 1968 / 1969. In connection with the Opening of the new Museum, TAG-Heuer has been saying that it is a company that is focused on its heritage / the DNA of the brand. Talking with company executives, they do seem very interested in the history of the brand and the older Heuer chronographs . . . exploring all the strands and mutations of the Heuer DNA.

During a break, the North American group does the quick walk around the town center, with the destination being Walder, everyone's favorite Neuchatel chocolate shop. It's great to be able to buy souvenirs for everyone (family, friends and office buddies), all in the same shop . . . but that's been everyone's request: Swiss chocolate, and nothing but Swiss chocolate! Walking around the town and interacting with the local residents and shopkeepers is itself a lesson in Swiss culture. They are friendly and kind, and did I mention meticulous. The shopkeeper at Walder is as careful in assembling my one-pound assortment of chocolates as her watchmaker counterparts might be in assembling, adjusting and testing a complicated chronograph movement. Precision is everything in the Valley of the Watches!

We have some free time during the afternoon, so Nic and I take the train up to La Chaux-De-Fonds. After the climb up the mountain, the air feels fresh and crisp, and there is snow on the ground. La Chaux-De-Fonds is TAG-Heuer's world headquarters, and the very heart of the "Watch Valley". Nic and I have set our sights on a shop that speiclaizes in horological antiques. As it turns out, the shop is closed for the day, as the owner is out of town. It's hardly satisfying to press our noses against the glass, and admire the ephemera and antique tooling, but that's all we can do . . . at least until the next trip.

International Museum of Horology, La Chaux-De-Fonds

Being unable to buy any old watches today, we must be content to look at them, so it's up the hill to the Musee International D'Horologerie [International Museum of Horology]. Most of the areas of the Museum are dedicated to clocks, but the section covering 20th century watches is interesting. The displays are grouped into themes -- sport watches, automatic watches, shock-proofing, calendars, complications, etc. -- with a selection of brands in each of the categories. Seeing this excellent museum will be the under-card or warm-up, for our main event, the Opening of the TAG-Heuer 360 Museum, later in the evening.

Museum Opening and Party, Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wednesday evening were the big events -- the Opening Ceremony for the TAG-Heuer 360 Museum, an opportunity to look around the Museum, and the "Underground Party" to celebrate the Opening.

The Opening Ceremony. The Opening ceremony consisted of a conversation between Jean-Christophe Babin, President and CEO of TAG-Heuer, and Lewis Hamilton, Formula One phenom and a TAG-Heuer ambassador. Hamilton seemed genuinely interested in TAG-Heuer, including its heritage and it current line of watches. He seems excited to have his name on the dial of a TAG-Heuer watch, and to be looking forward to many successful seasons in Formula One and many more TAG-Heuer watches honoring his accomplishments. Hamilton presented Babin with one of his helmets, which will reside in the Museum with another bright yellow helmet, that of the legendary Formula One champion (and TAG-Heuer ambassador) Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton and Babin were surrounded by an entourage, entering and leaving the Museum, so it was a thrill when -- as they were leaving the Museum after the Opening ceremony -- Jean-Christophe stopped and introduced me to Hamilton. Jean-Christophe told Hamilton about my collection of vintage Heuers and research into Heuer's history, and operation of a related website, and Hamilton asked me for the name of the website. Come on Lewis, just say the word, and we'll work with the boys at McLaren to rip out some of those finicky electronics and get you a good, reliable Rally Master pair!

The TAG-Heuer 360 Museum. Turning to the physical aspects of the Museum, the Museum takes a multi-level approach to its displays, with the room (200 square meters) divided into three vertical spaces. Going from the ceiling down to the floor, these three zones are intended to represent the watch itself -- the crystal at the top, then the hands, and finally the dial and registers.

Interior photos of the Museum. Click to see larger photos.

  • The Crystal. Suspended overhead, going all the way around the room, is a 360 degree circular video screen. TAG-Heuer reports that the panoramic screen is supported by 12 high-performance retro-jectors, synchronized into a single moving 360 degree centripetal image, with 2 million animated images. Whatever the technical specifications may be, any visitor will see a very high-tech presentation of the familar TAG-Heuer images and ambassadors -- Fangio, Siffert, McQueen, Senna, Prost, Raikkonen, Gordon and Hamilton on the track; Tiger Woods; Maria Sharapova; . . . all the ambassadors, moving around a giant 360 degree screen. The video is fast-moving and rich with images; I probably saw it five or six times during the evening, but noticed many different images and details with each viewing. It's almost as if you want to walk to the other side of the room, and watch the whole thing again.
  • The Hands. Just as the hands of the watch mark the passage of time, at eye level of the Museum, we see a series of display cases (totalling 50 meters in length) that show the timeline of the Heuer brand. This timeline is composed of 51 backlight panels that tell the story, 16 separate display cases for the timepieces and other historic items, and eight video screens. For example, the displays covering the 1960's highlight John Glenn's stopwatch (1962), the introduction of the Carrera (1964), and the development of the first automatic chronographs and Steve McQueen (1969). In the 1970's, we see the see the progression of electronic watches and timing equipment.
  • The Dial / Registers. Moving from the ceiling, to eye level, to now to waist level, the visitor sees nine floor-mounted, circular display cases (which represent the dial and registers of the chronograph). Each of these nine display cases is dedicated to a specific theme, as follows:
    • Great Inventions
    • From Pocket to Wrist
    • Modern Times
    • The Dream of Flight
    • Legendary Tracks and Races
    • Famous Partners
    • The Call of the Sea
    • Technology + Function = Design
    • Watches for Women

    These themetic displays are an effective way to present the watches. We see connections between the timepieces built for a specific function, across different time-periods. For example, in the "Dream of Flight" display we see the common elements that connect the aircraft instruments from the 1930's, the mechanical pilots watches of the 1960's, and navigational watches of the 1980's. Similarly, in the "Call of the Sea" display, we see the Mareographe watch from the 1950's, the Skipper chronograph from the 1960's, and the yachting timers from the 1970's. Moving from one watch in the case to the next, the viewer is left to discern the shared elements of these watches, while also seeing how the executions changed over time.

There is an interesting lesson in reviewing the watches selected for display in the showcases. While TAG-Heuer owns many models and variations of most of these chronographs (for example, the Caliber 11 /12 Autavias), only a limited number of the versions are on display in the Museum. Of course, the selection among the Autavias is obvious, as the Museum displays the "Chronomatic" version worn by the legendary Swiss Formula One driver, Jo Siffert. Similarly, we see the Steve McQueen version of the Monaco and the super-rare "black-eyed" Carrera 12 Dato, rather than the more common versions of these models. Perhaps the Museum illustrates an important lesson for the collectors, suggesting that we should seek the rare and interesting, rather than simply trying to "check the boxes" as we seek to own and display every version of every chronograph!!

Our Community's Contribution. It was very satisfying to see the timepieces that members of our online community of vintage collectors had provided for the Museum. Among these timepieces were the Monaco actually worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans (big shout out to David and Don); the German pilots (flieger) chronographs, circa 1935 / 1940, provided by Nic (and, yes, I will forgive him the ebay "snipe" that took that one of them out of my hands, with only four seconds remaining); and the "soldier's story", a 18 karat, triple-calendar chronograph, engraved to mark a U.S. soldier's visit to Basle in March 1946, and which ended up with an estate auctioneer in Florida. While most collectors will rarely part with their treasures, there is considerably less pain when the shipping address is "Mathilde Tournois . . . TAG-Heuer 360 Museum, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland".

This watch was purchased by an American soldier, in Basel, May 1946. I found it offered for sale through a Florida estate seller, complete with the original papers, and arranged for the purchase by the Museum. Click to see larger photos.

The Underground Party. After the Opening Ceremony, we moved to the "Underground Party", which was "underground", in the literal sense. TAG-Heuer had transformed its underground parking garage into a huge party room, and it looked great. The furniture was funky; the theme for the decorations was "Under Construction"; food and drink was abundant.

The "Underground Party" in the underground garage; Lewis Hamilton signs the mural; Hong Kong actor Louis Koo was one of the special guests. Click to see larger photos.

It's All About "Trendy Chic". The invitation for the Museum Opening and Party announced that the attire for the evening was to be "Trendy Chic". For a (boring) corporate attroney, who spends 250 days per year deciding whether (a) the suit will be gray or navy, (b) the oxford shirt will be white or blue, (c) the collar will be button-down or pointed, and (d) the shoes will be black or cordovan, the concept of "Trendy Chic" attire for a late night party in Switzerland evoked nothing less than panic. Like any good researcher, I quickly turned to Google, but searching "TAG-Heuer" and "trendy chic" yielded no useful information. The situation got even worse when I broadened the search to "TAG-Heuer" and "chic". I learned that TAG-Heuer had done "sleek chic" for an event in Singapore, July 2006; and TAG-Heuer described the woman's Monaco as "retro-chic"; and the women's Carrera was stated to be "classically chic", but "trendy chic" seemed to be a whole new look, even for TAG-Heuer. Still, it was useful to know that "trendy chic" must be something other than sleek chic, retro chic or classical chic . (I should add that a quick visit to TredyChic.com turned out to be a complete waste of time; click here, and you'll see why.)

As it turned out, the phrase was a source of confusion for many of the guests, and there was much discussion of the phrase during the events before the Museum Opening and Party. In the end, everything worked out well -- my black corduroy velour jacket was almost identical to the one worn by Stephane Linder, TAG-Heuer's Director of Design and Marketing. I continue to wonder about the fact that Stephane's jacket had the elbow patches? Come on Stephane, get out of the shell and live a little!

Trendy Chic =
Corduroy Velour.

Spending Time with My Heuer Friends. For me, the highlight of the evening was spending time with some of the folks previously known to me only by e-mail messages, discussion forum postings, and telephone conversations. The following gallery shows some of my "Heuer Friends" -- the faces that I was able to match with previous e-mail messages and phone calls. Across the top row are (left photo) Jack Heuer, Honorary Chairman of TAG-Heuer, and Rachel Branch, Director of Public Relations and Events, North America, and (right photo) Jeff Stein with Valentine Balmat, International Press Relations Manager. The middle row shows Mathilde Tournois, Curator of the TAG-Heuer 360 Museum, with two of her "suppliers", Nic Green [a.k.a. "Heuerboy"] and Jeff Stein. The third row is our John Glenn row, showing (left photo) Fabienne Chalchat-Lambert, Public Relations Manager, and (right photo) Gary Girdvainis, Editor-in-Chief of International Watch, and Jeff Stein. Gary and I publicized the discovery that John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch on the United States' first orbital space flight, in February 1962; Fabienne is standing in front of the Museum display, which she helped to prepare.

The Best Part of the Trip -- Meeting My "Heuer Friends"

Robo-Chrono. One week before the opening of the Museum, I had received a very rare chronograph -- the Ford Split Lap Unit 77 -- made by Heuer to celebrate the rally championship won by the Ford RS team. As we approached the opening of the Museum, I was curious about whether the Museum would have one of these freaky-looking things (known among friends as "Robo-Chrono"), and I had also decided that this would be my "Trendy Chic" watch. As it turned out, "Yes, there is a "Robo-Chrono" in the Museum, but "No" it is not operating; and "Yes", Robo-Chrono was the epitome of trendy chic, drawing rave reviews from the very trendiest, chicest people at the Party [you know who you are].

The night ended on a perfect note, with a gentle snow falling as the left the Party for the ride back to Neuchatel. What a disappointment it would have been to have come to Switzerland in January, and not have seen some snowfall. Doesn't it look nice against the backdrop of the blue Ferrari!

Some Reflections on the Trip

January 31, 2008

This "press junket" to the Museum Opening seemed like a great opportunity -- a wonderful escape vacation; a chance to finally meet some of my internet / e-mail buddies; an opportunity to spend some minutes in a room-full of vintage Heuer timepieces. All these realms were phenomenal . . . the beautiful hotel, the wonderful people, and the Museum itself . . . all better than expected; any one of them reason enough to make the trip. Beyond these realms, however, the real surprise from my 48 hours in Switzerland was the strength and confidence that I saw in the TAG-Heuer brand. Senior leadership of the company is energized; the results with the recent watches have been impressive; and there is confidence that the future of the TAG-Heuer brand is even more promising.

Ten years ago, Heuer's "vintage collector" crowd was in an awkward position. We loved our old Heuer chronographs -- Autavia, Carrera, Monaco, etc. But there was considerable discomfort as we reviewed TAG-Heuer's current offerings. Sure we could show off our old Rally-Master timers or McQueen Monacos on the discussion forums, and get the "thumbs up" from the other collector cummunities, every single time, but to put the "TAG" and the hyphen in front of the "Heuer" was the equivalent of asking for a beating. Walking into a store and looking at the line-up was also painful. Yes, TAG-Heuer had the cool advertisements and slick store displays; yes, they had the ambassadors and slogans; and yes, we could take pride in Heuer's heritage, but inevitably the discussion would turn to the question, "What about the watches?" As ranchers in Texas say, "Big hat, but no cattle" (or to continue the bovine imagery, "All sizzle, no steak").

Writing in the early days of 2008, it is great to report that the cattle have arrived. It saw them in Neuchatel and also in La Chaux-De-Fonds. Whether it's the innovation and accuracy of the Carrera 360, the technical marvel of the new Rotating System, or the beauty of the new Caliber 1, TAG-Heuer has the motors. Heft the case, study the finish of the dial, or operate the pushers and crown, and you realize the strength of the entire machine.

The Heuer guys -- both vintage and modern -- often speak in automotive imagery, and celebrate the courage and charisma (and DNA) of the brand's racers and leaders, so we'll close with a simple wrap up on the two days in Switzerland. I went to La Chaux-De-Fonds to explore Heuer's history -- to see some the old watches, to learn more about some legendary racers (Siffert, McQueen and Senna) and to have a conversation with Jack Heuer, the last generation of Heuer family leaderhsip. I am delighted to be leaving Switzerland having learned more about Heuer's unique history, but also energized by the brand's future prospects, with its newest racer, Lewis Hamilton, and its newest leader, Jean-Christophe Babin. For those who cherish the vintage Heuers and their history, let me report that our Heritage is in very good hands.

copyright Jeffrey M. Stein, 2008